Hope Idiotic | Part VII
Hope Idiotic is a serialized novel. Catch each new part every week on Monday and Thursday.
BY MID-NOVEMBER, LOU HAD BEEN LIVING WITH MICHELLE FOR TWO MONTHS. She provided half of the dresser for him and cleared out space in the bathroom cabinets and her closets for him in an effort to make her place his place, too. But she refused to let him hang any photos of his friends or family. And there was no way he was putting his film trophy on display anywhere.
“It’s tacky,” she told him.
“I’m proud of it.”
“You won that years ago. In college. Why does it matter now?”
“Because, it is a big part of my creative career. The first real acknowledgement I received. It reminds me that I’m capable of succeeding.”
“It’s not like it’s an Oscar, Lou.”
“Would you let me display an Oscar?”
“Win an Oscar. You can carry it around your neck for all I care.”
Her case: She spent a lot of time and money making her home nice and mature and professional-looking. A trophy from a university film department contest would only cramp her style. It should have been enough that she made room for his stuff in her closet. “I had to give away a lot of shoes,” she reminded him.
“You didn’t even wear half of those shoes,” he said.
“If you absolutely have to have photos of your friends and family in the apartment, you can put them on your nightstand on your side of the bed.”
“But this is our place, right? You have photos of friends and family everywhere.”
“My family doesn’t live in the city. I never see them.”
This was bullshit. She saw her parents about every two months whether she was visiting them in Las Vegas or if they were visiting her in Chicago or if there was a vacation somewhere else they’d take together. And those friends in the photographs? They all lived blocks away from the apartment. Fact was, she saw her parents and friends far more than he saw his. Michelle said she wanted Lou to call the apartment home, but it seemed she didn’t really want him to move into it.
His father once told him about a girl he dated in high school who lived in a high-rise. “I broke up with her after the first date,” he said. “I didn’t like her enough to wait around for the elevators only to have to make nice with the other tenants.” Lou loved that story, and after living in a high-rise for two months, he had even more of an appreciation for it.
What he couldn’t move into, he began to feel trapped in. They lived on the twenty-ninth floor, so he had to wait for an elevator every time he wanted to go anywhere. If he was in a hurry to get back to the apartment to, say, go to the bathroom, he had to wait for an elevator to take him up. To run a load of laundry, he had to wait for an elevator to take him down to the basement’s laundry room. When he needed to drop a portfolio in the mailbox in the lobby of the building, or pick up a frozen pizza and a pack of gum from the store, he had to budget fifteen minutes to do so, just in case the elevators were moving slowly that day. What were once quick, thoughtless, chores back in Vegas had become time-consuming errands in Chicago.
It was not only a hassle getting out of and into the apartment, but not having a job to go to each day presented a certain kind of claustrophobia for him. The apartment was a perfectly good size for a one-bedroom in the city, and it never felt that he and Michelle were living on top of each other. But where there was a specific bedroom and kitchen, the living room, dining room and office were all one large space. It’s called an open-floor plan, and it was suffocating.
He was home all day scouring the web for jobs, calling businesses, opening a LinkedIn account and joining groups, learning about networking opportunities, perfecting and re-perfecting his résumé and cover letters, all from Michelle’s tiny IKEA desk shoved in the corner of the main room. When he wasn’t staring at the computer screen, he was looking through the large windows at the panoramic view of the city and he swore it was mocking him. Like it was saying, “Here I am, Lou! I’m right here! Come and get me; make me yours! Hurry, you don’t want to miss the elevator!”
The city, and all it offered was out of his reach. By two o’clock every afternoon, he was so emotionally drained and physically exhausted from sitting on his ass, that his six o’clock scotch routine was bumped up four hours.
CHUCK’S MOTHER HAD BEEN IN AND OUT OF THE HOSPITAL FIVE TIMES FOR THREE HEART ATTACKS since the first one back in June. He was sending nearly every cent he had back home to cover the cost of the rapidly growing medical bills and hardly making a dent. As a result, he was falling far behind on his own bills. Lexi was barely keeping both of them afloat.
When Chuck’s mom went in to the hospital the fifth time, he thought it best to fly out there. On his way back to Vegas, he stopped in Chicago to see Lou. He was going to stay at Lou and Michelle’s place, but realizing Chuck’s one night in town would likely result in drunken and horrific behavior, Michelle politely suggested they both get a hotel.
“That’s fine,” Chuck said. “Since neither of us has any money.”
“And she wants me to start paying half of the rent,” said Lou. “That’s about nine hundred bucks a month. I’ve been in Chicago for almost six months and haven’t even made a total of nine hundred bucks. And she wants me to pay that every thirty days?”
“It’s not right. Because it’s not that she needs help making rent. She’s pulling in four hundred grand a year, right?”
“One seventy-five. Which is plenty. And I’ve saved her money on housecleaning. She used to pay a service. Seventy-five dollars every two weeks. I clean the house better than they did, and I do it every week, plus I do the laundry. And I cook. Dinner is always ready for her when she gets home from work. I’m pulling my weight the best I can.”
“You’re the perfect 1950s housewife she always wanted,” Chuck said. “You’d think that would be enough.”
Michelle told Lou she wanted to at least have dinner with the boys since it would be her one chance to see Chuck while he was in town for the night. She was sweet and asked about his mother and the rest of his family. She pressed him about his plans to marry Lexi, which made the boys uncomfortable because they knew that he not only wasn’t making plans to marry her, but he was mostly fucking someone else — and possibly falling in love with that someone. Michelle, however, had no idea about Gina and there was no way Lou was ever going to say anything about her as long as Chuck was still living with Lexi.
He was a cheating, conniving bastard, yes. Lou knew that. And he told Chuck so several times. But Lou also understood the reasons for the attraction and the reason he had to sneak around. Without Lexi, Chuck had no money, and with all he had on his plate, not having his sugar mama would be a disaster.
There was also the fact that despite the cheating and lying, he loved Lexi. She wasn’t perfect, but who was? So she bored him sometimes; who doesn’t get bored with the woman they love? They hadn’t had sex in ages, so what? People go through slumps. It was complicated because matters of the head and heart so often are. But it was wrong to lie to the person he was in a recognized relationship with. And that’s all Michelle would see, the black-and-white physical truth, not the grey emotional truth. So, it was best to just not bring it up.
He ran toward and lunged at Chuck, and they began fighting each other.
Michelle even paid for their dinner. “You’re both having a hard time right now; let me get this,” she said yanking the black checkbook away from Chuck.
“You want to pay for our hotel, too?” Chuck said.
“Sorry, boys. You’re on your own with that one.”
Following dinner, the drinks came fast and hard. It had been more than five months since they saw each other, but they spoke on the phone and emailed each other nearly every day so there was no reason to sit someplace quiet and catch up. What they missed was the rowdiness. Since they ate dinner downtown, Lou suggested they go to “that wretched Viagra Triangle. It’s full of tourists, rich women, creepy old perverts and over-privileged go-hards.”
When Chuck and Lou committed to a binge, they did so with every good therapeutic intention in mind. Some people relieve stress and manage problems by jogging or going to the gym or seeing a shrink. Chuck and Lou were each other’s shrinks, and their exercise routine consisted of filling their guts full of booze so that their blood thinned out and they could flush out their brains with a simple blackout. There was often a consequence or two to deal with when they came to, but it was always worth it.
At a karaoke bar where the drinks were overpriced and the floor was dramatically sticky, Chuck nearly had his head beaten in by three big frat-types, probably day traders, after invading their performance of “Don’t Stop Believing.” After being thrown out of the karaoke bar, Lou stumbled into an alley around the corner to puke up his dinner and about fifty bucks worth of beer. Chuck took pictures of it.
“You like that?” Lou yelled at him. “There’s plenty more where that came from.”
Then he ran toward and lunged at Chuck, and they began fighting each other. Lou was half the size of Chuck. Where Lou was a star cross-country runner in high school, Chuck was all-state in football. Whenever these playful fights broke out, Chuck was always the victor. But Lou was scrappy, and their antics made messes.
Out of the alley, Chuck stumbled backward, falling over a young couple sitting on the curb, sick from too much of something. The boys apologized as Chuck threw a few dollar bills at them. “Get a cab home,” he said.
Lou lunged again. Chuck caught him and rotated his body, using Lou’s momentum to throw him into the middle of the street. A black Lincoln town car almost ran him over. It blared its horn. Lou imitated the sound back to the car at the top of his lungs.
Chuck came at him. Lou tried to escape to the other side of the sidewalk, but Chuck grabbed hold of his jacket. Lou spun around and slapped Chuck across the face. Holding onto Lou’s jacket collar, Chuck shoved Lou backward to the corner of the next block. Just as he was about to throw his skinny friend into a collection of street corner newspaper dispensers, Lou tripped him and twisted his body, causing the bigger, heavier Chuck to fall into the dispensers, with Lou landing on top of him.
Metal newspaper stands clanged loudly against the street pavement. One of them broke open, and copies of the Inquisitor spilled into the intersection. Chuck pushed Lou off of him, and when they were both balanced on their feet again, Chuck charged, which pushed Lou back into a trash can, knocking it over, as well.
By this time, a crowd had gathered to witness the street fight between the two maniacs who were laughing their drunken heads off. Chuck’s leather jacket was ripped. Lou’s hand and forehead were bleeding. Someone called the cops.
If the police really wanted to capture half-aware drunks like those two, it would have served them best to not hit their sirens as they approached. Chuck and Lou trained themselves over the years to spring into action at the first sound and sight of an officer of the law. Chuck quickly grabbed Lou’s hand and yanked him up off of the ground, and they took off down Dearborn Street, where they successful evaded the cops in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
THEY WOKE UP ON THE FLOOR OF THEIR ROOM IN THE CONGRESS HOTEL. The room was trashed, Chuck’s jacket was ruined and Lou had to think of a way to explain the cuts on his hand and forehead to Michelle. Getting into a street brawl with his best friend wouldn’t resonate well with her. They had to pull themselves together quickly. Chuck had a flight to make.
“We are fucking idiots,” Lou said.
As they hustled out of the hotel and to the Orange Line El train that would take him directly to Midway Airport, Chuck reminisced, “Remember when we used to have no responsibility for anything?”
“We always had responsibility. We’ve always just been good at keeping our circus act from burning the whole town down.”
“But all of this accountability to people now. My family. Lexi. Michelle.”
“We’d be more fucked without it.”
“Anchors to our drifting ships.”
Lou saw Chuck onto the train. They hugged and laughed at each other in a way that they both understood what the other was thinking; that they were going to be okay. That somehow they would figure it out, but that yes, they were complete and total fucking idiots.
LEXI WASN’T AT THE AIRPORT TO PICK UP CHUCK AS PLANNED. He called her, but she didn’t answer. He waited there an hour and called her a dozen times leaving just as many messages. Nothing. He caught a cab. The fare emptied out his wallet. When he walked through the door, Lexi was lounging on the couch watching TV. Her phone was next to her, the voicemail indicator light blinking. He set his bag down.
She turned off the television, sat up and said, “We need to talk.”